Students Take Moral Stand Against Dining Hall Provider Sodexo

A timeline of Sodexo controversies.
(Sean Ogami, Grace Ozonoff-Richey, Dominic Frempong • The Student Life)

Students from across the Claremont Colleges have organized Drop Sodexo, a campaign aimed at ending Scripps College’s contract with Sodexo, a French multinational food services and management corporation with a well-documented connection to private prisons and worker exploitation.

Comprised of mostly Scripps students, the Drop Sodexo organizing committee seeks to inform the 5C community about Sodexo’s treatment of workers and the ways in which the corporation allegedly contradicts Scripps’s values.

Sodexo, founded in 1966, has had significant investments in and ownership of private prisons, and has repeatedly been involved in civil rights abuse, food safety, and racial discrimination cases.

“By continuing business with a company that has such an extensive corporate crime record, we are providing a monetary endorsement for their increasing exploitation of land, people, and communities throughout the world,” the Drop Sodexo statement on the committee’s website reads.

Scripps’s current contract with Sodexo is for dining, facilities, and maintenance management and was most recently signed in the fall of 2014, according to a written statement from the Scripps administration. Dining hall and facilities workers at Scripps are employed by the College, and not by Sodexo. 

Student organizer Elizabeth “Zizzy” Murphy SC ‘19 emphasized that an important part of the campaign is providing clarity around the group’s movement against Sodexo as a corporation, and not workers themselves.

“Our movement is explicitly not targeting the workers themselves, and we want them to continue with their livelihoods here at Scripps and that really should be one of Scripps’s foremost things in understanding that its students care that its workers are being taken care of and feel welcome here.”

Harvey Mudd College also has a contract with Sodexo for its dining services management of Hoch-Shanahan dining hall.

Student organizer Rebecca Millberg SC ’17 heard criticisms of Sodexo throughout her time at Scripps, but began formally organizing with fellow students after conducting thorough research into its practices after learning that Scripps had purchased furniture made by prison labor.

“We began doing our research about Sodexo, and we were absolutely horrified by the fact they actually owned and operated over a hundred private prisons abroad, especially in the U.K. and Chile as well,” Millberg said. “They also have a history of horrible labor practices and food safety violations and worker exploitation, and so it just felt like with all of that information it shouldn’t be that hard for Scripps administration to see that it goes completely against our values.”

Ending Scripps’s contract with Sodexo has been a point of interest for Scripps students for the past several years, and was articulated in the student organizing efforts and demands presented to the administration during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Other colleges across the nation have campaigned and successfully ended their contracts with Sodexo; Fordham University announced that it had dropped its contract with the corporation in April 2016, and students at approximately 50 college and university campuses across the nation organized rallies, sit-ins, and boycotts of Sodexo, formerly named Sodexho Marriott Services, in 2001, according to The New York Times.

Drop Sodexo had its first meeting Jan. 20 with over 60 students in attendance, and has since held two actions outside of Malott in the days surrounding Family Weekend in February.

Millberg said that Drop Sodexo has received significant support from students, and that faculty have expressed “being glad that students are finally organizing around an issue that they’ve been concerned with for longer than we’ve been students here.”

The Scripps administration has stated that they do not plan to terminate their contract with Sodexo prior to its expiration in 2020.

“Scripps’ senior team reviewed the impact of terminating the contract early, and President Tiedens reported back to students that legal fees and a variety of other expenses related to such an action would exceed $1 million and create undue negative impact on the College’s budget … as it would reduce available funding for other important priorities, such as financial aid and faculty and staff compensation,” the Scripps administration wrote in an email to TSL.

Scripps’s senior team also wrote that they would develop a procurement policy to “to govern future selection of vendors and products in accordance with Scripps’ educational, co-curricular, and social values as well as its fiduciary responsibility to manage financial resources prudently.”

In a meeting with Tiedens Nov. 18, the Drop Sodexo campaign shared a thorough fact sheet detailing Sodexo’s abuses.

“For us it felt like, we’re not waiting four years for Scripps to funnel more money to this institution when we know it’s wrong now,” Millberg said. “And that was when we really decided to bring this to the student body and start building a much larger, visible campaign.”

Student organizer Roxy Rozo-Marsh SC ‘19 said that the Scripps administration has sent emails to Drop Sodexo discouraging future actions.

“We need to keep the college accountable. I think there’s a lot of things that Scripps is affiliated with that its students don’t stand for, and the fact that we have beds made by prison labor for 55 cents an hour — that’s something that we’re sleeping on, something we’re actively using and engaging with,” Rozo-Marsh said.

Students have posted flyers around campus with information about Sodexo and the campaign to end Scripps’ contract, and will continue to do so in the future.

“The administration does not have all the power. We as students have a lot of power, even in the fact that when we as 5C students choose to eat at other dining halls not run by Sodexo (so that’s CMC, Pitzer, and Pomona’s dining halls), Scripps actually pays the other colleges for those meals,” student organizer Alicia Goode-Allen SC ‘19 said. “That’s something little that if we all start doing together can send the message to the administration that we do have power in this situation, that we do have agency.”

Organizers of the Drop Sodexo campaign hope to find an alternative management solutions that prioritizes worker rights through continued conversations and research.

“We don’t intend for the campaign [to end] just with some kind of awareness when we know that there are concrete things that can be done,” student organizer Elizabeth Murphy SC ‘19 said. “The thing we most want to ensure is that the thing that comes after [Sodexo] is not a step back.”

Drop Sodexo will next host a community lunch on the lawn outside of Malott Commons on March 30, intended to demonstrate a student, faculty, and staff boycott of the dining hall.

Student-staffed food organizations, including The Motley Coffeehouse and the Grove House, are supporting the event by providing food. Drop Sodexo encourages students to eat at or take lunch in a to-go box that day from dining halls not contracted by Sodexo, which include Collins, Frank, Frary, and McConnell dining halls.

“Our hope is that the entire student body will know what’s going on with Sodexo,” Millberg said, “and as many students as possible will show up when we have actions so that we have a solid group of students from across the 5Cs who are organizing together with us.”

Drop Sodexo holds weekly meetings on Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. in the Scripps Student Union and welcomes any interested individuals.

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